Fried chicken is the star at this Cincinnati-based restaurant, where more can sometimes mean too much.
Columbus newcomer The Eagle is a small (four and counting) restaurant chain out of Cincinnati, serving good fried chicken and Southern-inspired sides. The concept is smart and straightforward: simple foods with bold flavors, served in big portions at reasonable prices. For the most part, the Eagle accomplishes its mission.
The chicken is free-range and sourced from Amish farms. It's brined overnight to hold in moisture and then fried under pressure, which also reduces moisture loss. What you get is a crisp-on-the-outside, moist-on-the-inside, lovely piece of fried chicken. Available in white or dark, quarters, halves or whole, the fried chicken is more than fairly priced, from $7 for a quarter bird to $19 for a whole one.
What goes with fried chicken? Craft beer, of course. The Eagle calls itself a “food and beer hall” and, true to the name, serves a large and well-chosen selection of craft beers from around the country, including a seasonal offering from Cleveland's Great Lakes Brewing Company and the powerful Brooklyn Brown from Brooklyn Brewery. Local offerings include Glory, Land Grant's fine wheat beer, and the crisp pale ale from North High Brewing. There's also a handful of well-made cocktails, including bourbon punch spiked with ginger liqueur and sweetened with white grape juice and, yes, a mule (the word “ubiquitous” leaps to mind); this one keeps it traditional with lime juice and ginger beer—the mule kick comes from Tito's vodka. It's lively and refreshing.
What else goes with fried chicken? Why collard greens, biscuits, grits and succotash, of course. The menu samples much of the South, including Kentucky, where burgoo stew is well-loved ($5 substantial cup, $9 large bowl). This new item to The Eagle's menu is hearty (and mild), combining shredded pork and chicken, potatoes and veggies, with a few chunks of sweet cornbread tossed in for good measure.
New Orleans is represented with the shrimp po'boy sandwich ($12) loaded with generously sized blackened shrimp and a smoked onion remoulade. Other traditional Deep South fare includes a succotash of corn, edamame (replacing the usual lima beans), green beans, bacon and bell peppers ($5). There are excellent soft-braised collard greens, stewed with ham hocks and bacon ($4). The Eagle's fluffy biscuits come with good blackberry jam and honey butter ($4). To be honest, I love this menu, which also includes goodies like a colorful plate of house-made pickled vegetables ($5); an enormous grilled cheese sandwich nicely offset with apricot preserves and crisp slices of tart Granny Smith apples ($7); and mashed sweet potatoes ($5) served in a crock topped with mini marshmallows.
I would love to report that all of these delicacies taste wonderful, but alas, more than a few dishes here suffer from the more-is-better syndrome: more salt, pepper, spice, sugar, vinegar, etc. Take the house-made pickled vegetables. It's a multi-colored plate of crunchy carrots, a small sheaf of green beans and slices of crisp cucumber. This side would be a perfect foil to a mess of fried chicken if it weren't for the fact that the veggies spent way too much time in vinegar and taste of little else. White cheddar grits sound great and could be, but on two tries they were overwhelmingly salty and distractingly spicy. Not that spicy grits are a bad thing, but here the spice seemed like nothing but a handful of harsh, powdered cayenne. The shrimp po'boy could have been a winner but for the overwhelming amount of avocado relish and remoulade, which soaked the bun and nearly obliterated the taste of the shrimp. Succotash, likewise, was promising with its still slightly crisp vegetables, but the recipe apparently calls for so much salt and pepper that it nearly ruined the dish. Likewise, the spoon bread (cornbread served in a cute little cast-iron skillet, $5) was so sweet that it might have been a dessert.
Don't despair. The chicken, collards, biscuits and sweet potatoes are more than satisfying, and there is safety in salads—as long as you order dressing on the side to avoid The Eagle's tendency to go overboard. Kale salad is not particularly Southern, but The Eagle's kale nods in that direction with bourbon-soaked raisins, cornbread croutons and cider vinaigrette. With judicious use of the dressing and its topping of sharp cheddar cheese, this salad is a winner ($5 half; $9 whole). Almost as good is the Country Greens Salad of endive, frisee and mustard greens served with a strong mustard dressing ($4 half, $9 whole).
Warm-weather diners will enjoy The Eagle's substantial patio at the site of the former Short North La Fogata. Whether intentional or not, The Eagle is rather dark—the decor is mostly dark wood, the lighting is low. (A study noted in a recent New York Times article found that people tend to eat less healthful foods and consume more in dark places.) Enter and the first thing you see is the square bar, also made of dark wood. But despite the distraction of a couple of flat-screen TVs, it's pretty enough.
Servers are also friendly, and on my visits, they were young and engaging. Predictably, they are well trained by the company to tell you how good everything on the menu is. And for the most part, they're right. If we can get the recipes here adjusted a little, everything would be great.